With a gashed leg, first-aid kit clutched to my chest and pants indistinguishably stained with either tire marks or pure gasoline, I wondered how I’d ended up cradled in the arms of my co-workers and managers atop the grime-laced stairs.
I’d been run over.
By a go-kart no less.
The garish hi-viz vest courtesy of my minimum wage job and my yelled instructions of “DON’T PUT YOUR FEET ON THE PEDALS” couldn’t save me. A mixture of customer confusion and bad acoustics — between the roaring engines and mask-clad faces — sent me flying through the air like a graceless crash doll.
The humor of the situation certainly wasn’t lost on me, and clearly still isn’t (and neither is the inch-deep scar on my shin), but it still leaves me wondering how the workers who do the most often get paid the least.
Minimum wage workers do everything most people would never want to do, so why do we continually undervalue those that work these jobs?
They clean the sick off of bathroom sinks and are met with symphonies of ridicule via shouts and snapping fingers, all because they served the drinks a second slower than usual. They work ungodly hours just to give us our early morning coffees and late-night hangover cures.
The U.K.’s minimum wage currently stands at a pitiful £4.62 ($6.05 USD) for people under 18 years old and the National Living Wage for those over 23 stands at £8.91 ($11.66 USD). New York State boasts a $15 minimum wage for New York City, Long Island and Westchester County workers and $13.20 for Upstate New Yorkers, but it still misses the mark for the arduous work these employees undertake.
Maybe even more importantly, the disrespect and condescension minimum wage workers receive is genuinely outrageous for the work they do. Jobs that don’t require a degree and three-digit biweekly paychecks should never translate to a lack of respect.
Minimum wage work is back-breaking.
My back still reflexively twinges when I see bartenders hunching over a cocktail or gripping a wobbling tower of empty glasses, forcing me to recall my favorite guessing game of whether it was lime mojito juice or pornstar martini passion fruit stench that had stained my socks.
Those 9 p.m. starts and 5 a.m. finishes wrecked my social life for that day and virtually ruined Rhianna’s entire discography for me (to this day I shudder from memories of the Vengaboys-Rhianna “Boom Boom Boom Boom!!/Rude Boy” remix).
Regardless of the DJ’s pop culture crimes, the most frustrating part had to be how little anyone cared for the work I did. It seemed like people would roll their eyes and sigh at me far faster and more frequently than they’d ever smile or say thank you, and were quick to give their two cents on how much better they could do my job without giving me a chance to actually do it.
Tips are basically mythical in Europe, so you’d have to be someone special to get even a few extra pounds for the work you did. Safe to say, with less than expertise-level employment requirements, I was no Lewis Hamilton wannabe and definitely would’ve landed myself and at least one other sorry person in the emergency room if I tried to impress by throwing a bottle in the air before I poured a drink. Clumsiness has always been my forté. But the next-to-no chance of bonus money from tips made an already horrendous wage that much more horrendous.
For many, minimum wage workers are the scum of the working world.
They don’t work the jobs your teachers encourage you to shoot for, they don’t have contractual salaries or company health insurance or the oh-so-illustrious 401(k) plans that’re envied. But that shouldn’t take away from their integrity and the integrity of their job.
It doesn’t make their work any less important.
Minimum wage work is a grind, and no one — certainly not someone who doesn’t work one of these jobs — has the grounds to say otherwise. Blood, sweat and tears go into those professions and my tragic stories of multiple kart-related injuries are a testament to that.
My blood-fearing self could never meet the mark working as a doctor or nurse, but I also could never cope as a food server or janitor in those very same hospitals. Everyone plays a role, and no one role is less important than the other.
So the next time you eat out or go to a theme park or clubbing, even a smile goes a long way to the people helping you out while you’re there.
Sophie McNally is an assistant sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sophie McNally is an assistant sports editor at The Spectrum. She is a history major studying abroad for a year from Newcastle University in the UK. In her spare time, she can be found blasting The 1975 or Taylor Swift and rowing on a random river at 5 a.m.